A Letter to My Younger Self in Honor of International Women’s Day

Shortly after my first love and I broke up in 2013, I wrote a letter to my younger self. At the time, I intended to bury it away somewhere to be forgotten, as it was just meant to be a private way to help myself heal. But every couple months or so, I’ve found myself pulling up the letter again on my computer, reading it over, adding to it, finding comfort in it.

In 2015, I learned about #DearMe, an empowerment campaign in honor of International Women’s Day that encouraged women to write a letter with advice to they needed to hear when they were younger. So, I pulled my letter out of hiding and put it out into the world. Now that International Women’s Day has come around in 2016, I feel it’s time to dust off my letter once again.

This letter will never be finished. Each year, as I grow older, I plan to read and reread, write and rewrite, hopefully building on what I want 15-year-old Emily to know. And while this letter is deeply personal to me, and I’m specifically sharing it for International Women’s Day, it is my hope that no matter what age you may be or how you identify, these words will resonate with you, reminding you that you are always enough and never alone.

Dear Me (15-year-old Emily),

I know how your eyes scan the room every time you go somewhere new, wondering if today will be the day your gaze settles upon a guy who just might accept you for who you are. I know how you lay awake at night envisioning what the future might be like, if only a guy could accept your disabled body. I know how you think that day will never come.

But the day will come when someone will accept you. He will tell you that you are the most beautiful girl in the world. He will tell you that you can trust him. He will tell you he loves you.

And he will be a wheelchair user too. I know that’s not an option you’ve been considering, but I promise when you open your mind to him, you will feel like he can relate to you in ways no one has ever understood you before.

Then he will leave you. He will break your heart and break your trust instead of breaking your fall. And it will hurt in ways you never imagined.

Don’t let him be the source of your self-worth. For that matter, don’t let anyone be the source of your self-worth. You’ll face rejection for being disabled and you’ll face rejection for being the girl you are. When you’re met with discrimination or a lack of acceptance, don’t just sit there and take it.

Learn to love yourself for all that you are. Gain strength that will be there to keep you going even when life shoots you down. That cannot come from outside you. It will only come from within.

I know these sound like words in the self-help books that made you roll your eyes and laugh as you pulled them from bookstore shelves. Quit laughing and start listening. It will save you a lot of pain in the years down the road.

Please, don’t give any of yourself away before you accept yourself. Learn to embrace your disability as another part of what makes you, you. Learn that just because you’ve got a body with scars and curves and a wheelchair attached to your butt, does not mean you’re not beautiful just as you are – your brain, your body, every part of you.

I won’t lie to you: Life as a disabled woman will continue challenging you to the core at times. Know that even in the hardest moments, you have so much to offer the world. Stop doubting yourself. More importantly, stop believing that you will only be validated and whole when someone looks at you with romance in his eyes.

Remember the pain of heartbreak is an experience not limited to the disabled world, nor is the joy of reaching your dreams. If there’s a day, a week, or a month when it feels like you just don’t fit and nothing is right and everything is wrong, know that you are far from alone in this world.

Focus on finding joy in who you are, on finding your way to a career path that will both fulfill your dreams and give you the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Remember how capable you are, no matter what message society may send. When it feels like you’ve been left out of nondisabled life, never forget that your life is no less valid.

I promise write to you again in a few years as I work to gain self-worth, self-acceptance, and pride in being a disabled woman that I wish you’d fight harder for now. But in the mean time, hang in there. You’re going to become stronger than you thought possible, and you’re going to be alright.

Love you always,
24-year-old Emily



  1. Thank you Emily for this post. As a 17 year old girl with hearing loss, anxiety and health issues, I have begun to wonder if I will ever find a guy who will accept all of me. I also have reached a new, more complicated place with the acceptance of my disability, walking the thin line between this is just a part of me and this is more than just a small part of me. Your post really spoke to me and reminded me, I am not alone and everything will end up okay. Why did you choose 15?

    1. Hi Kathryn – I’m so glad this post spoke to you. I want you to know you absolutely are worthy of love, and I hope that in time, you’ll come to figure out what disability means to you. It’s a complicated place I’ve been in as well. I chose 15 because I think that was a particularly difficult time for me as I tried to better understand my identity.

  2. Truth is, we spend our whole lives learning the lessons of self-acceptance and reinvention. A disability is an added complication to the equation, but the process remains the same. To find true love and then sustain it over the course of a lifetime is a rare thing. To learn to truly love and accept yourself is even rarer. The former we have little control over, but the latter is entirely in our own hands.


  3. I love that you shared such an intimate and personal letter that you’ve written yourself. I feel like most of us women struggle with self-worth and finding our worth through our own eyes as opposed to a man’s eyes, so this letter really touched me. I’ve always meant to write one to my 15 year old self as well, I can imagine it could be quite healing! Thank you for sharing <3

  4. Hi Emily, I was on my first college tour yesterday and saw something that made me think of you. At a couple random out of the way places in buildings there were light green signs with the wheelchair symbol that said “Area of Refuge”. I have no idea what that mean but it seemed quite bizarre.

    1. Hi Kathryn! That’s so exciting that you took you first college tour! Those signs are actually in case of emergency when there may be stairs or another obstacle preventing people from exiting the building. Wheelchair users or people with limited mobility can go there, and rescue crews will know to look for them.

      1. Oh okay. That makes sense. I had no idea that existed. Yeah it is exciting less so when the college’s FM system(for people w/ hearing loss) is over a decade old and not combatable with you. How did you manage college tours? I had my own problem not being able to hear the tour guide.

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